Sellout crowd, including a fired-up Brian Flores, pack BB&T Center in pandemic record

·3 min read

Now, with all eyes set on Sunrise, there’s only one thing left to do: Whatever it takes!

Through sacrifice, skill, and heart. For yourself. For each other. For the territory. WIN! The battle continues tonight. We fear no one!

Get on your feet. It’s time for Game 2.

And with those spirited commands from Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, blasted from the big screen above center ice, the Florida Panthers were back in action Tuesday against their rival Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Nearly 10,000 seats were full — the most allowed by the NHL at the Sunrise arena. The crowd was in a frenzy.

In a region without a lot of hockey playoff experience, South Florida looked — and sounded — the part.

Miami is an event town. And Tuesday night was most certainly an event. COVID-19 is on its way out, and South Florida has responded. Tuesday’s sellout crowd was the region’s biggest indoor sporting event since the pandemic began.

“I think the restrictions have relaxed a little bit,” said Charles Metzger, a Boca Raton-based physician who bought lower-bowl seats with his friends and 560 The Joe personalities Marc Hochman and Alejandro Solana.

“I’m vaccinated, my friends are vaccinated. Felt comfortable with that. Just wanted to see a good game, get back into some action. Real life.”

A sizable chunk of the Miami Dolphins organization felt the same way. Flores and general manager Chris Grier were among roughly 40 members of the team’s coaching and personnel staffs who packed a couple of suites.

It was Flores’ second trip to Sunrise on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Flores — as Panthers exec Shawn Thornton put it — “snuck in the back door” to tape Game 2’s introductory hype video.

When asked why it was important to him to show support, Flores replied:

“Because I love supporting the teams in South Florida. The Panthers have been fun to watch all season. I love their competitiveness and fight. I’m all in.”

The Panthers, who trailed by two goals at the first intermission, hope that enthusiasm is contagious.

By most every metric, this has been a great year for the team, even with COVID-19 capacity restrictions.

Their local television ratings were the highest in 17 years.

And the deeper they can go in the postseason, the more they hope they’re able to fill the arena.

“Right now, it’s all about league protocols,” Thornton said. “We have to achieve a certain humidity level, dew point level and CFM [cubic air feet per minute] rating. We have to bring in a certain amount of treated outside air into the building for air flow.

“We’ve been running tests nontstop,” Thornton added. “We’ve been bringing in extra dehumidifiers, cooling units, air treatment to try to get the number to the level where we can up the capacity.”

With just four playoff appearances since the turn of the century, opportunities like this to significantly build the fan base are rare.

The Panthers are determined not to let it go to waste.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest,” Thornton added. “I’m biased because I played the sport, but I don’t think there’s any atmosphere in sports quite like an NHL playoff game. We’re the only sport that’s 200-by-85 with no out of bounds. The energy, the intensity, the speed, you can literally feel it when you’re sitting in here. The crowd we had tonight and last game just embraces and amplifies it.”

Maybe the Panthers should sign on Flores for the rest of the playoff run. After getting the crowd amped up prior to a second-period power play, the Panthers got finally on the board — and back in the game.